Map skills go beyond basic geography. Kids learn measurements, distances, directions and problem solving with the use of maps. Making a map with a child helps her understand the different parts and symbols. Tailor the mapmaking activity to the child's level and include key map vocabulary and symbols to make the map educational and enjoyable.

Pick a Destination

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The first decision is what to include on the map. For kids who are just learning to make and read maps, choose something familiar, such as the neighborhood, house, school or even the room that you're in at the time. This is particularly helpful for kids in kindergarten through second grade. The familiarity of the area makes it easier for the child to think about what to include on the map. If you map the room you're in, the child can look around to find landmarks to include. When kids reach third through fifth grade, they are able to expand to include the entire state, country or world. Choose a focus that is developmentally appropriate for the child and relevant to what you want to teach.

Teach the Parts

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The child needs to know what to include on a map before she can make her own. Look at some examples of maps so she can understand a maps key components, such as a legend or the map's scale ratio. Let her point to these components and ask questions about them if she's not sure what they are. Children often struggle with figuring out abstract symbols and understanding measurements on the map. Teaching these concepts explicitly can help even young children better understand how to use maps. Point out the compass rose and the directions marked on it.

Pick the Landmarks

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With a basic understanding of what to include on a map, the child is ready to plan out the map. Help him focus on the major landmarks in the area you're mapping. If you're making a map of the room, that might include the door, windows and furniture. For a map of a house, the drawing might depict the different rooms, the yard and major features outside, such as trees or the driveway. Young kids typically focus on a few major landmarks. Older kids are able to go into more detail. For a map of a home, for example, an older child might include the sidewalks, landscaped areas, fences and other small details.

Sketch the Map

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The child is now ready to put those landmarks on the map. Start by drawing a compass rose to indicate north, south, east and west on the map. Position the paper to line up with the actual directions. This makes it easier to put the landmarks in the appropriate spots. Decide on symbols for different landmarks. A square might indicate a building in the neighborhood, for example. A circle might represent trees. The child starts by drawing a representation for a prominent landmark. Help her use the positioning of other objects relative to that prominent feature to accurately map the area. Discuss proportion of the objects on the map. A fire hydrant shouldn't be as large as the house, for example. With older elementary and middle school kids, discuss scale. One inch on the map might equal one mile in real life, for example. Use graph paper to help the older kids draw the maps to scale.